Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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Civic Skinny

Dvorsky asks Regents about Donley’s pay.


Some questions apparently aren’t as easy as they look.

On Aug. 9 — that’s seven weeks ago — Cityview asked the office of Gov. Terry Branstad whether he knew in advance of a bonus and big deferred-pay package that the Board of Regents gave its executive director, Bob Donley, a pay package that put him far above the legislative cap for his compensation.

And it asked if the Governor approves of it now that he knows.

They were yes-or-no questions. But still no answer.

Now, state Sen. Bob Dvorsky, the 27-year senate veteran and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and member of the Education Committee, is asking the same questions — and lots of others.

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In a “to whom it may concern” letter dated Sept. 20 and delivered to the Regents’ three lobbyists — and provided to Cityview by Dvorsky in response to a request — the Coralville Democrat and some other Democratic senators have asked — through a staffer — for this information:

1. Please provide all documents that the BOR office/staff put together regarding executive director compensation comparisons.

2. Please provide a detailed listing of all compensation for Bob Donley since being hired, including but not limited to, car reimbursements/use, housing, deferred compensation/retirement and all other pay and bonuses — broken out by year.

3. Please provide a detailed listing of all compensation for the last two BOR Executive Directors including, but not limited to, car reimbursements/use, housing, deferred compensation/retirement and all other pay and bonuses — broken out by year.

4. What is the salary cap on this BOR ED position? Why/how is Mr. Donley paid more?

5. Please name any BOR staff that has received bonuses or other/additional compensation, the amount and the years additional compensation was provided.

6. When and how are bonuses and/or deferred compensation plans for Mr. Donley approved?

7. Was the BOR aware that Mr. Donley applied for another job as chancellor of the North Dakota State University System last year?  Did that have any impact on their decision to award Mr. Donley a bonus or this deferred compensation amount?

8. What is Mr. Donley’s job description? Does the BOR agree that Mr. Donley “is responsible for the management and operation of the state public university system as delegated by the Iowa Board of Regents, managing (Sic) a $4.2 billion budget with 73,000 students and over 45,000 full and part-time employees”? quote by Mr. Donley describing his job in a cover letter applying for a new job in North Dakota last year.

9. Is Mr. Donley in charge [of] “fundraising, sponsored research and grants, enrollment, retention and other student success initiatives,” at the universities governed by the BOR?

10. Was the governor aware or did the Governor or his staff approve Mr. Donley’s bonuses or new deferred compensation plans?

“Please provide answers and any relevant documentation pertaining to these questions at your earliest convenience,” the letter notes.

The background: Under the law, Donley is considered a “range 7” employee of the state, a category that includes most agency heads and that since 2008 has had a salary range of $100,840 to $154,300. According to the state salary data base, his pay in 2012 was $164,050, about $10,000 over the maximum. This summer, the Board of Regents voted to give him a bonus of $5,000 and a two-year deferred compensation deal of $50,000 extra in year one and $75,000 in year two, which would, among other things, put his pay at roughly twice the $130,000 the Governor makes.

The question now: How will the board office define “at your earliest convenience?” At week’s end, Dvorsky had heard nothing back. …

It’s not a done deal, and it still could go awry, but people who hang around the county building think the Board of Supervisors will pick Mark Wandro as the next county administrator, succeeding David Jones. Jones, who was paid around $160,000 a year, has left to become city manager in Ankeny. Wandro, an engineer, was head of the Iowa Department of Transportation under Gov. Tom Vilsack. …

Besides asking for $14 million or so in legal fees for winning the $40 million class action suit against the city of Des Moines in the franchise-fee case, the lawyers also have submitted to Judge Joel Novak a request to approve $560,597.79 in expenses.  Among them: $43,157.75 to Jamie Buelt, a Des Moines public-relations person; $25,000 to Bill Wimmer, a Des Moines lobbyist; and $10,000 to Rust Consulting, a Minneapolis-based firm that consults on class-action settlements. They also seek reimbursement for $287,154 paid to Chuck Finch, a Kansas City-based consultant with Alvarez & Marsal Global Forensic and Dispute Services. CV


Judge Larry McLellan of Polk County District Court on Friday approved a settlement and judgments in the two lawsuits I filed against Iowa Public Radio earlier this year. The suits alleged the IPR board violated the Iowa Open Meetings Law when it went into closed sessions on Dec. 13, 2012, and Feb. 26, 2013.

The closed sessions discussed issues related to the future of IPR boss Mary Grace Herrington, who ultimately was fired. She had not asked that the sessions be closed — which is a requirement when a public board closes a meeting to discuss personnel matters. Among other things, IPR argued that it was not subject to the Iowa Open Meetings Law.

In the judgments, the court concludes that IPR didn’t comply with the Iowa Open Meetings Law on those two dates. The court order says:

— “IPR and all of its committees and board members are enjoined by mandatory injunction from future violations of [the Open Meeting Law] for a period of five years.” It adds that “this injunction will be enforced under penalty of civil contempt.”

— Kay Runge’s resignation as chair of the IPR board “is effective on the date of the entry of this judgment by the Court.”  Had the cases gone to trial and had the court ruled that members who were sued violated the open-meetings law, Runge, as a named defendant in both suits, would have been forced off the board. She tendered her resignation a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of this settlement order and, perhaps, the coming expiration of her term.

— Steve Firman of Cedar Falls will immediately become chair of the board and University of Northern Iowa Provost Gloria Gibson becomes vice chair. If either steps down at any time in the next five years, the court orders limit the board from appointing to either post any person named as an individual defendant in the case. That would cover Doug West, who has been vice chair; Mark Braun, who is the representative from the University of Iowa; and Warren Madden, the Iowa State University official who has just resigned from the board.

— Iowa Public Radio will for the next six months prepare and broadcast a public service announcement about the services provided by the Iowa Public Information Board, including information about compliance with the Iowa Open Meetings and Open Records laws and information regarding the filing of complaints.

— IPR must pay all court costs and attorney fees. I was represented by Michael Giudicessi, of Faegre Baker Daniels, and IPR will pay his firm $35,505. This “has been documented to Defendants and is deemed reasonable and appropriate,” the court orders say. Court costs are a few hundred dollars. I do not know the fees charged to IPR by its law firms, at first the Belin Law Firm and, later, the Ahlers law firm. Three law partners worked on the case for IPR.

— The consent orders and judgments may be enforced by proceedings for civil contempt that can be brought by me or by Big Green Umbrella Media, Inc., the publisher of Cityview.

I sued Iowa Public Radio and certain board members for the simple reason that I think the Open Meetings Law is a great thing for the people of the state and that it can be ignored only at the peril of board members, a lesson I learned while serving on the Board of Regents. Legislators who wrote the law believe the public’s business should be done in public, a concept that people new to public boards sometimes have a hard time grasping. A consent order and judgment like the ones signed Friday by Judge McLellan show the perils of secret meetings and should prompt boards to make sure they follow the law.

Meantime, the Public is back in Iowa Public Radio.CV
— Michael Gartner

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